The More You Watch, the Less They Produce

Can supervision on a factory floor can lead to decreased productivity?

In his 2012 paper The Transparency Paradox: A Role for Privacy in Organizational Learning and Operational Control, Ethan Berstein looked at factory operations in a Chinese cell phone plant and discovered something very interesting, something he calls a “transparency paradox”. In that plant, most line workers were observed by lead hands and supervisors in the conventional way. Some lines however, were isolated and separated from routine observation by plant management. His empirical research showed that the workers who are not routinely observed perform better than those that were, the opposite of what we expect in conventional operations. More supervision, less productivity. Why? Jim Anderton comments.

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Written by

James Anderton

Jim Anderton is the Director of Content for Mr. Anderton was formerly editor of Canadian Metalworking Magazine and has contributed to a wide range of print and on-line publications, including Design Engineering, Canadian Plastics, Service Station and Garage Management, Autovision, and the National Post. He also brings prior industry experience in quality and part design for a Tier One automotive supplier.